Wednesday, 19 March 2008

“An Antidote to Obamamania”

I leave you this fine evening with a column by Jonathan Martin.


This New York Times story about doctors almost makes lawyers look good by comparison.

Twenty Years Ago

3-19-88 . . . Nobody likes a negative person or a negative enterprise. Unfortunately, on my conception of philosophy, it is essentially negative. A philosopher reveals the implicit structure of argument and theory; he or she examines and points out confusion, inconsistency, and logical error. So there are always “victims” in philosophy—those who put forward bad arguments or flawed theories. In this sense, philosophers are the bearers of bad tidings. We bother people. We upset their plans, interfere with their projects, and make them uneasy. We’re always looking over their shoulders as they work. On the other hand, there’s something positive about philosophy. Once confusion is exposed, genuine progress can be made in argument and theory. So in a way, we free up other enterprises; we make them useful and productive. I retract what I said earlier. Philosophy merely appears to be negative. In fact, it’s as positive and constructive as any other enterprise, but in its own way.

Note from KBJ: Compare John Locke (1632-1704), from An Essay Concerning Human Understanding (1690):

I shall always have the satisfaction to have aimed sincerely at truth and usefulness, though in one of the meanest ways. The commonwealth of learning is not at this time without master-builders, whose mighty designs, in advancing the sciences, will leave lasting monuments to the admiration of posterity: but every one must not hope to be a Boyle or a Sydenham; and in an age that produces such masters as the great Huygenius and the incomparable Mr. Newton, with some others of that strain, it is ambition enough to be employed as an under-labourer in clearing the ground a little, and removing some of the rubbish that lies in the way to knowledge;- which certainly had been very much more advanced in the world, if the endeavours of ingenious and industrious men had not been much cumbered with the learned but frivolous use of uncouth, affected, or unintelligible terms, introduced into the sciences, and there made an art of, to that degree that Philosophy, which is nothing but the true knowledge of things, was thought unfit or incapable to be brought into well-bred company and polite conversation. Vague and insignificant forms of speech, and abuse of language, have so long passed for mysteries of science; and hard and misapplied words, with little or no meaning, have, by prescription, such a right to be mistaken for deep learning and height of speculation, that it will not be easy to persuade either those who speak or those who hear them, that they are but the covers of ignorance, and hindrance of true knowledge. To break in upon the sanctuary of vanity and ignorance will be, I suppose, some service to human understanding; though so few are apt to think they deceive or are deceived in the use of words; or that the language of the sect they are of has any faults in it which ought to be examined or corrected, that I hope I shall be pardoned if I have in the Third Book dwelt long on this subject, and endeavoured to make it so plain, that neither the inveterateness of the mischief, nor the prevalency of the fashion, shall be any excuse for those who will not take care about the meaning of their own words, and will not suffer the significancy of their expressions to be inquired into.

Philosophers are under-labourers.

Animal Ethics

Are you up for a hoedown? See here.

Twenty Years Ago Yesterday

3-18-88 There should be no doubt that we live in a sexist, patriarchal society. But if there is, consider this. Houston Astros pitcher Bob Knepper recently pitched in an exhibition game that was umpired by Pam Postema. Postema is on the verge of becoming the first female umpire in the major leagues. After the game, Knepper said this: “There are certain things a woman shouldn’t be and an umpire is one of them. It has nothing to do with ability or intelligence. God invented jobs for men to do and jobs for women to do. It’s a physical thing. God created women to be feminine.” I’m infuriated when I read or think about this. In fact, I’m tempted to write to Knepper. For one thing, what does Knepper mean when he says that “It’s a physical thing”? Is he implying that males, but not females, are physically able to umpire? If so, he hasn’t explained why or in what way. Postema has proved that she can handle the rigors of the game. It’s not wrestling, after all. It’s decisionmaking. [No woman, including Postema, has umpired a regular-season Major League Baseball game.]

What grates on me the most is Knepper’s appeal to God. The best argument I know of for maintaining traditional sex roles is that it’s efficient. Women, since they (alone) bear children and have breasts for feeding, are well suited to continue caring for children as they grow. It’s a weak argument, but it has to be dealt with. Knepper, however, advances a different argument, an argument from divine will. “God created women to be feminine”, he says. Needless to say, this is problematic. First, it assumes that there is a god. Second, it assumes that God wills that males occupy certain roles and females others. Third, it assumes that God wills that females occupy caretaking (feminine) roles. Knepper owes us a justification for these assumptions. [Not unless he’s trying to persuade others.] I’ve long believed that sexism is rampant in our society. It just doesn’t become public very often. Sad to say, but Knepper said what many people believe.

Note from KBJ: If there were any justice in this world, Knepper would have married Postema (they were born in the same year) and had daughters who wanted to follow in their mother’s footsteps. Don’t laugh. James Carville married Mary Matalin.

Hall of Fame?

Joe Carter. (For an explanation of this feature, see here.)

A. K. Stout (1900-1983) on Intuitionism

In using phrases like “gaining good or averting evil” and “bad consequences” I am adopting what may in a wide sense be called a “utilitarian” position—that is, one which regards the rightness of a particular action or of the general observance of a rule of conduct as equivalent to its being productive of the most possible good (or at [sic] least possible evil), as compared with other alternative actions and rules of conduct.

“Ideal Utilitarianism”, as Rashdall has called it, is the position of G. E. Moore in Principia Ethica. For an ideal utilitarian, “good” and “bad”, with their comparatives and superlatives, are the basic notions in Ethics, and “right”, “duty” and “obligation” are relative to them.

The so-called “Intuitionist” view, to which Ideal Utilitarianism is sharply opposed, holds, on the contrary, that “right” and “wrong” are the basic ideas in Ethics and that actions of a certain kind are right and can be known on inspection to be right, because they are of that kind, independently of their goodness or of any good effects produced by them. This is the same thing as to say that certain rules of conduct are morally binding, and can be seen on inspection to be so, quite apart from their consequences. Thus, that a promise has been made is by itself a sufficient reason for keeping it; that a man is guilty makes it right, and indeed a duty, to see that he is punished. Good or bad consequences do not count either way.

Sir David Ross, indeed, escapes the very hard conclusion that all promises must be kept without exception and all guilty persons punished—that justice must be done though the sky falls—by means of his doctrine of prima facie duties. But he himself regards this as keeping within the framework of Intuitionism, and making no concessions to Ideal Utilitarianism.

(A. K. Stout, “‘But Suppose Everyone Did the Same,'” The Australasian Journal of Philosophy 32 [May 1954]: 1-29, at 1-2 [italics in original])

Note from KBJ: As I have said many times in this blog, there are three exhaustive and exclusive categories of normative ethical theory: consequentialism (consequences are everything); moderate deontology (consequences are something); and absolutist deontology (consequences are nothing). Half a century ago, Stout (whose father, G. F. Stout, was also a prominent philosopher) identified and distinguished these theories, although he gave them different names. My consequentialism is his ideal utilitarianism; my moderate deontology is his Rossian intuitionism; my absolutist deontology is his nonRossian intuitionism.

Note 2 from KBJ: To a consequentialist, the good is prior to the right. What this means is that “right” is defined in terms of “good.” Goodness is the basic concept; rightness is derivative from it. To an absolutist deontologist, the right is prior to the good. What this means is that “good” is defined in terms of “right.” Rightness is the basic concept; goodness is derivative from it. To a moderate deontologist, neither the good nor the right is prior to the other. What this means is that neither “good” nor “right” is defined in terms of the other. Neither goodness nor rightness is basic, and neither, therefore, is derivative from the other.


It’s been five years since the invasion of Iraq. Where did the time go? I didn’t start blogging until 5 November 2003, so I can’t link to a post from that fateful day. My most vivid memory is of NBC reporter David Bloom filing reports from the tank on which he was riding. It was riveting. Bloom died shortly thereafter of a pulmonary embolism. What are your memories of the invasion?

A Year Ago



Maybe something is wrong with me, but it’s blindingly obvious that John McCain would have an easier time defeating Barack Obama than he would Hillary Clinton. This is why I want Obama to win the Democrat nomination. Suppose Obama wins. By the time November rolls around, he will be a communist, a racist, an anti-Semite, a pacifist, a Muslim (or an atheist), and a charlatan. Don’t ever count the Clintons out. You may think that McCain could beat Hillary, given her high negatives. If so, then you haven’t been paying attention for the past 20 years. This will get you up to speed.


If you’re not eating cookies made by this company, your life is not worth living.

Best of the Web Today


From Today’s New York Times

To the Editor:

I still fail to understand why home ownership is treated as an inalienable right and not a privilege. And now the government’s misguided undertaking is simply cementing this notion of entitlement.

In the blame game that has unfolded around the miseries of the housing market, the people who made the irresponsible purchases and took on mortgages they could never afford should be held accountable, not assisted out of their mistakes, which have been driving this country’s economy into a steady decline.

What did they expect when they took on mortgages they wouldn’t be able to pay off in hundreds of years? Why must they be allowed to continue living in homes they own at the expense of us, the more responsible taxpayers who do know what we can and cannot afford to own?

Margarit Ordukhanyan
New York, March 18, 2008

Note from KBJ: The letter writer (bless her heart) doesn’t understand that ours has become the Entitlement Society. Everyone is entitled to (1) a job, (2) a home, (3) children, and (4) health care. Concepts such as responsibility, desert, self-reliance, and self-sufficiency no longer mean anything. Indeed, those of us who are responsible, deserving, self-reliant, and self-sufficient end up subsidizing those who are not. “[F]rom each according to his ability, to each according to his needs!” (Karl Marx, “Critique of the Gotha Program,” 1875).


Here is Grant Brown’s latest post at The Shotgun Blog. Like Paul McCartney, I have had an experience with a gold digger. It is not pleasant.